An old friend, Mike Gallagher, invited me to tour his estate in Lorain County because for one week each summer he turns it into a camp for high school cross country runners and this is the week.
I had not seen Mike in years, at least since he quit drinking in the early 1990s. In fact, he said that until I showed up, he had not seen any of his old drinking chums.
Since those days at the old Stadium Club, Mike had developed diabetes. It got steadily worse. He lost two toes and he now injects himself with insulin several times a day, usually by sticking the needle into his stomach muscles. That sounds like a lousy way to live, but at least it’s a living and it’s not the worst thing he went through.
Last week he got good news about his leukemia. It is officially in remission. He’s been dealing with leukemia for three years, which explains his gaunt appearance.
Mike is 62 and when guys our age find themselves spending too much time with doctors, they think about sprucing up the resume. Mike has done that. A building at an AA recovery center bears his name. He does other good works.
Mike has the means. He owns radio stations. When he sold a radio station in Detroit, he bought his estate in Lorain County on Rt. 511 just west of Oberlin. It’s a modest place — a 30-room house, 8,000 square feet, two other buildings, 63 acres, a spring-fed pond. Many of the rooms were added on in recent years. When he sells his radio station in Chicago he’ll probably retire and downsize.
Although Mike lives alone, except for a caretaker, he insists he is not lonely. His first wife died of cancer in the 1980s. He was married briefly a second time, but it did not work out.
This week the 30-room house is bursting at the seams. The 17 runners train over 21/2 miles of trails Mike and his caretaker carved through the forest. A branch of the Vermilion River runs through the back 40, but in the summer you have to look carefully to find it.
Mike hires caterers to feed them three meals a day. They have clean beds in various rooms of the house, including a dormitory room.
Cross country is a sizeable gap in my sports expertise. I figured that they tell you to start here and you finish a couple of miles away over there. But I also figure that inner-city Buffalo is much like inner-city Cleveland. If you run two miles in any direction you’ll get run over by a bus or you’ll attract a police escort.
In a way, the police part explains how the runners from Bishop Timon wound up at Mike Gallagher’s place in Lorain County. Gallagher’s niece, Ann, is married to Buffalo police officer Dan Horan, an avid runner and the cross country coach at Bishop Timon. He was on official police duty when a kid from Bishop Timon outran him. Nobody outruns Horan. The next day he told the kid he was going out for cross country.
(You should not clutter a story with too many extraneous facts. For example, how did officer Horan know the kid was from Bishop Timon? Don’t get obsessed about things that are not that essential. The important part is that Horan does good work, Gallagher does good work and the kid runs fast.)
“These kids are so poor,” Gallagher said in wonderment, “last year one of these kids had ice cream for the first time.”
Those are the moments that keep him going.
Dan Coughlin is a columnist for The Chronicle-Telegram and a sportscaster for TV-8. Contact him at 329-7135 or email@example.com.